How Midnight Mass Creator Mike Flanagan Used The Netflix Series To Confront His Darkest, And Most Personal, Fear

Midnight Mass

The following will dive into plot details for Midnight Mass, so stop reading now if you haven’t yet started to watch Mike Flanagan’s show, and still plan to.

The work by horror writer-director Mike Flanagan starts to connect more emotionally, and make a little more sense, once you realize that the man himself dealt with alcoholism. Addiction is a thread that runs through Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, his adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, and his latest series for Netflix, Midnight Mass. It goes without saying that Flanagan is/was a deeply religious person, which colors in a lot of the conversations he’s trying to launch with the series. But while guesting on CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast, Flanagan also made it clear that the character of Riley, played by Zach Gilford, was “an avatar” for the director, who had faced down some of the same struggles.

We learn in the very first episode of Midnight Mass that Riley was responsible for his girlfriend’s death, because he drove drunk and crashed. She died, he lived… and this mistake haunts him for the rest of his days. Mike Flanagan appeared on ReelBlend to talk about Midnight Mass, and explained that while dealing with his own alcoholism, he had a specific fear that he wrote into Midnight Mass. Flanagan said:

You meet him enacting what really was my biggest fear. Maybe the thing I was most afraid of in my life. Which was, as I was first starting to write this, I was dealing with alcohol, but had not yet gotten sober. The fear that really had me by the throat wasn’t that something would happen to me. That’d I’d hurt myself, or that I’d die in a car accident. It was, ‘What if I killed someone else and lived?’ That was the deepest, darkest fear that I could imagine.

That calls to mind the indisputable weight of guilt, because Riley must endure the rest of Midnight Mass with that burden resting on his shoulders. It’s the cross he’s forced to bear, and to Mike Flanagan, creating a character enduring this “legacy” was his way into a story that would allow him to confront some of his own demons. And he wanted to make sure that the audience meets this main character “under the worst possible situation that I could imagine.”

Riley’s journey, alone, would have provided more than enough material for a gripping drama. So it says a lot about Mike Flanagan as a storyteller that Riley’s struggles are but the tip of the iceberg of issues that are explored in Midnight Mass. The Netflix series is a full meal of adult topics and emotional detours, many of which have triggered powerful conversations amongst the audience members who have binged all seven episodes.

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Which you absolutely should do. Midnight Mass is available now on Netflix. Stay up to date with everything coming to Netflix in the next few months. And also, press play on the button above to hear the full ReelBlend podcast where Flanagan and his producing partner Trevor Macy are guests.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.